AC's Reviews > The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
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May 05, 12

bookshelves: science-fiction, fascist-in-fiction

(Best to skip the review and go right to the comments!)

Dick seems to have been a very good writer who could have been a magnificient writer -- but who just had too much of the hack in him. He had an astonishinly fertile and vivid imagination, and the ability to bring the reader to a seriousness that is utterly convincing, only to descend into useless plot twists, pseudo-mysticisms (iChing, and the like. It appears, in fact, as if he would start with a great idea, a few star paragraphs (like Baynes' account of fascism at 41ff.; the account of the Nazi leadership in 1962, where Tagomi gets ill; the hotel scene in Electric), and a lot of blank paper -- and that he would then just start typing. The result is, the plot goes off in directions that are neither planned nor intentional, like a pinball... and that sometimes this would work and often it would not, and you'd end up with stray characters and plot strands (as here), or with a recoil..., that is, with a very self-conscious fear of the genuine and wonderful pathos he had himself unleashed (see my review of Electric Sheep). In other words, he (Dick) lacked discipline as a writer. Perhaps he was too inventive and thought it didn't matter -- (but it does matter). Or maybe there was a certain fatal insecurity beneath the swagger.... I don't know...

I have no idea if this is correct. And I'm certainly willing to read more of him. It's certainly a far cry better than most of the SF I've read this month. Still, I'm left with a certain sadness -- of missed opportunities.
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Reading Progress

04/28/2012 page 42
16.0% ""It is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate." (Dick, on the Nazi madness)"
04/29/2012 page 55
21.0% "This is good - much better than Philip Roth's book on the topic -- and none of the camp (yet) that marred Electric Sheep" 1 comment
05/04/2012 page 137
53.0%

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by AC (new) - rated it 4 stars

AC Actually, the whole passage is worth quoting:
http://books.google.com/books?id=Ntuk...


Manny Ah, you don't know how the book got written? It's worth looking up!


message 3: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell In other words, he (Dick) lacked discipline as a writer. Perhaps he was too inventive and thought it didn't matter -- (but it does matter). Or maybe there was a certain fatal insecurity beneath the swagger.... I don't know...

I think you're right on all counts - Dick was frantically churning out stories and novels in the frenzy-paced world of sf at the time, where novels were constantly hacked to fit Procrustian space requirements (Delany writes about this in his memoir), and he was tripping on speed quite a bit of the time, and he was carrying a huge chip on his shoulder that the trashy sf novels were the ones that succeeded and the six or eight mainstream novels he wrote just kept getting bounced left and right - he was astonishingly well-read, and pretty well-educated, too, one of the few sf writers influenced by high-culture literature and philosophy. I think he also wrote pretty much without outlines -- his novels have the plots of three or four jammed together, and they don't always mesh, or even resolve.

I love High Castle but wouldn't count it as his absolute best - my favourite novels of his are the ones where reality goes really trippy and it's meta ('homegrown Borges' as Le Guin called him). High Castle is more sort of chilly and formal, altho Juliana and Mr Tagomi (which IIRC doesn't MEAN anything in Japanese, whoops, Phil) are wonderful characters, two of his best.

I think what Manny's referring to is that Dick actually threw the I Ching at the points where the characters do in the novel - and wrote in what actual results he got. He was as frustrated by the lack of closure at the end of the book as anyone else, according to his biographer. But he also played the naif a bit and this may be one of those times - think of it, the people in the book know they're in the wrong story! They're stuck! They know reality isn't supposed to be this way, they're at the mercy of a flawed creator and his fucked-up creation -- it's pure Gnosticism. Doubly so - when Tagomi falls into our world, it's a hellish place, marked with racism and pollution. The contract readers make when they open a book is that the book is 'real,' or as someone once put it, that we all go a little insane (which I don't like as much) -- it's a waking dream, as Gardner put it. And Dick voids the contract right at the end, leaves us hanging: our world is a false world in their world, which is a false world, it's false worlds all the way down.

But there's that extraordinary scene at the end where Juliana (and her BOOBZ) is a symbol of organic form - and it goes back to the jewelry as a signifier of what is true, organic, real (and Dick was trying to work in his then-wife's jewelry business, at the time). In fact Juliana is reality, the reality principle itself, breaking through - she's the one who is 'moving and bright and living' at the end of the book. So yes, the world is false, all the worlds are false, but there is hope - there is life, there is beauty, there is revelation, there are what small things we can do, even in the falseness. (Like how in Androids Mercerism is false, but not meaningless.)

(This also ties in to Dick's vision of the dark-haired-girl who dropped by from the pharmacy wearing a fish pin, which kicked off his mystical experiences, but that's more in the later books.) ANYWAY, yeah, Dick's books move way too fast and there's way too much crammed into them and he wrote them too fast and all that, but I think they do have that actual organic form, like the Edfrank jewelry in the novel. Which is pretty amazing, since they just came straight out of his head (he said he couldn't write unless he typed, the words came from his mind 'out through my hands').


message 4: by AC (new) - rated it 4 stars

AC wow...!


message 5: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell AC wrote: "wow...!"

heh, just me babbling.


message 6: by AC (new) - rated it 4 stars

AC What ARE 2 or 3 of your favorite SF books, then...? off the top of your head -- as you see the trouble I've had in finding things to read here in this space...


message 7: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell AC wrote: "What ARE 2 or 3 of your favorite SF books, then...? off the top of your head -- as you see the trouble I've had in finding things to read here in this space..."

....ohhh gosh, I'm really never any good at this kind of question. I'll have to think about it some....do you mean favourite SF novels in general, or favourite Dick novels? Because the latter is slightly easier -

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
VALIS
A Scanner Darkly
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
The Man in the High Castle
The Divine Invasion
Radio Free Albemuth
Galactic Pot-Healer
Ubik
Confessions of a Crap Artist

I don't actually like Martian Time-Slip or Three Stigmata, they're too bad-trippy for me. And the mainstream novels are just sort of grim. - The collections The Preserving Machine and I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon are amazing, too.

I don't think anyone really likes The Transmigration of Timothy Archer and VALIS that much other than me, tho. But they're both brilliant, and very pomo (in the former, Dick writes about his friend Bishop Jim Pike, and gender-swaps himself into being "Pike's" daughter-in-law! Possibly his best character ever).


message 8: by AC (new) - rated it 4 stars

AC I have a few of those sitting beside me and will read them - I really did, though, mean SF in general (not Dick) --and I KNOW that's an unfair question (discretion being only one of the graces I lack...), and so feel free to NOT answer...


message 9: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell AC wrote: "I have a few of those sitting beside me and will read them - I really did, though, mean SF in general (not Dick) --and I KNOW that's an unfair question (discretion being only one of the graces I la..."

Yeah, I really am just terrible at questions about 'best' or 'favourite' books in a genre or time period - I name about twenty or thirty and always forget ACTUAL favourites and then later regret the whole thing. - Those are also just my personal favourite Dick novels, they may not be the objective best!


message 10: by AC (new) - rated it 4 stars

AC Moira wrote: "AC wrote: "I have a few of those sitting beside me and will read them - I really did, though, mean SF in general (not Dick) --and I KNOW that's an unfair question (discretion being only one of the ..."

definitely understood...I'll get to work on them...!


Manny You are well informed, Moira! I didn't know about him working in his wife's jewelry business.


message 12: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Manny wrote: "You are well informed, Moira! I didn't know about him working in his wife's jewelry business."

Yeah, he did this whole thing of "I'm going to have to quit writing and make jewelry," and it was her business and he kind of took it over, and then he wrote down the characters' names on a little scrap of paper (and I think his wife wanted her business back). Apparently it took him longer to plan than some of his other books. (There's a great biography, Divine Invasions, that I like a lot.)


Manny There's a great biography, Divine Invasions, that I like a lot.

Found it... thanks!


Tatiana I still have not read Dick. UKL seems to think The Man in the High Castle is one of the best SF novels ever. Is it Borgeslike? I can't tell if I would like it or not.


Manny I think it is a very fine SF novel, and yes, a bit like Borges...


message 16: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Tatiana wrote: "I still have not read Dick. UKL seems to think The Man in the High Castle is one of the best SF novels ever. Is it Borgeslike? I can't tell if I would like it or not."

It gets like Borges in places, but it's much more a naturalistic novel. Le Guin's original essay on Dick was great at the time, but she really didn't like where he wound up with VALIS &c, which I think distorts her evaluation some.


Bennet Fascinating thread. I'm a Dick fan but know little about him and wanted to offer my appreciation.


Bruce Okay, now I'm a Moira fan, too. Just finished rereading "High Castle" myself and am in the midst of a reread of "Electric Sheep" (both of which I last encountered early in high school). AC, if you're looking for a good Dick book (TWSS) to follow, I'd start with "A Scanner, Darkly," and then leap right over to William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, as the one word that I think most informs Dick's preoccupation with drawing the line between reality and fantasy is... DRUGS. It's the "mood dial" that awakens Decker at the start of "Electric Sheep," the governing substance of the Clans of the Alphane Moon, and the explicit theme that runs through both "Scanner" and "Lunch."

I'd like to believe that Dick's use of the I Ching for this book was not just a creative device (and big on the scene of the artistic avant garde at the time this was written... Moira, was Dick at all part of John Cage's circle?), but an outgrowth of his central theme that history is the outcome of a random roll of events. Apparently minor differences can upset the balance resulting in major changes in the overall picture.

We'd all like to take comfort in belief of the presence of a guiding (hopefully, benevolent) hand, but really, what's the difference between what we typically observe and a random roll? I've always thought Spiderman's Uncle Ben had it backwards: great responsibility comes more with great powerlessness, than with great power. It is precisely because there is no guiding hand at the loom that we must fully own our every action, and simultaneously never cease to wonder at how ridiculously complex is the whole, abstract weave (and our tiny threadlike part in it).

Taking this overbearing metaphor to its painful limits, I'll only add my supposition that in his blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, Philip K. Dick (like Borges) was that synthetic line that always slips its knot and abrades. Philip K. Dick, the thread that itches.


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